As long as I’ve been hanging around with nerds, which is long before it’s been cool, we’ve gone through a pecking-order ritual of saying when each one of us first got on the internet.
Young nerds would not have been old enough to experience the internet before it became the World Wide Web. I got on it when it was the pure and true ascii waste land. I talk about it a little here.
Before our phones held pictures, they carried our words. The internet found a way to carry data using modems. 14.4 and 28.8 and 56K before we got our broadband sorted out.
I am thinking back a little further though. Do you remember what the two T’s in AT&T stand for? Telephone and TELEGRAPH.
Back in the reign of Queen Victoria some engineers started stringing wires. It’s still called ‘laying cable.’ Before these wires connected the far reaches of this island nation, carrying coded messages (dah dit dah) the fastest way people sent messages was through signal fires.
Signal fires. Like in the Lord of the Rings. It was not that long ago. It was so recently that we were so far apart.
But the telecommunications technology of signal fires couldn’t reach as far as America. My home country was separated from England. People had to carry letters on ships and trust that they would get there in time or at all.
(and it happened faster than it had a right to)
The hyper fast communication of telegraphs became so important that the Victorian engineers were compelled to find a way to connect it across the oceans.
We revere our engineers now. Bill Gates is a celebrity, and the whole world knows and mourns Steve Jobs. The ones who brought our friends and family as close as our pockets, these we honor and admire.
The Victorians revered their engineering visionaries too. For basically the same reasons. Friends were down the street, with the telegraph.
So the fantastic inventors and engineers that made the railways and ships and telecommunication systems were respected and listened to.
It was kind of an accident that the ship which lay the first successful transatlantic cable was used. Isambard Brunel, the one responsible for it, did not start out as a ship biuilder.
He build railways. HIS way. He started the Great Western railway company, after riding on the railways then available in Britain. He declared the standard gauge rail was too cramped. In visionary engineer style, he re-engineered it to double in width.
Nerds know what I mean: PROPRIETARY STANDARDS.
So he had to create his own train locomotives and cars and tracks. But he did it. The Great Western was very popular even with it’s limited range.
Having conquered the railways, he wanted to conquer shipbuilding. He built…
The Great Western ship, the largest ship of it’s time, steam AND sail powered, to get to America and back.
Then he had to do it again, making a ship that was bigger still, the Great Eastern, which was meant to travel all the way to Australia without refueling.
It was the end of Brunel, literally. He died right after it was done. Young, like Steve Jobs.
The Great Eastern was not a success as a passenger ship. It would not be interesting to me if it had been.
In the end, this largest of all ships laid cable. It laid the first successful transatlantic cable. It was slow painstaking work to drop a thick cable down to the bottom of the ocean so that in the end it would carry a circuit, and more importantly, an intelligible morse code signal.
-.-. — -.. .
That is a giant step for humankind. Thanks, Brunel. Even if that’s not what you meant to happen.